For more than a decade one of the most valuable undeveloped commercial real estate parcels in central New Jersey has sat vacant waiting to be developed.
The 660-acre property — formerly the home of American Cyanamid — is the only undeveloped corner at the intersection of Route 1 and Quakerbridge Road, which includes Quakerbridge Mall, Nassau Park, and Mercer Mall.
But that may be about to change. The tract, now owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC), will be the subject of a forum on Wednesday, January 30, at 7 p.m. at the Mercer Oaks Golf Course Clubhouse, 725 Village Road, West Windsor.
West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh said most poeople do not associate HHC as the owner of the property, and the meeting will give the company an opportunity to introduce itself to the community and begin a dialogue about the future of the tract.
A company spokesperson said that although there are currently no plans for the site, the forum is the first step in the process of determining its future.
Currently on the tract are buildings amounting to 886,000 square feet, but current zoning would allow as much as 1.5 million square feet of research, office, and manufacturing space. The property would need to be rezoned to allow other uses.
“We want to make sure they come up with a plan that integrates as part of West Windsor,” said Hsueh. “We don’t want to see another Quakerbridge Mall or Nassau Park. It has to be something different. We want them to come up with an approach that takes the infrastructure impact on the community into consideration.”
Since operations at American Cyanamid shut down at the site in early 2000s, there have been several proposals for its development — the most recent of which was a mixed-use center anchored by an upscale shopping mall, but none have come to fruition for various reasons, including the numerous times it has changed hands, owners’ financial problems, and the Great Recession.
The ownership history of the property, originally an asset of Cyanamid’s agricultural division, is long and convoluted. Cyanamid merged with American Home Products in 1994 and then sold its agricultural division to German chemical company BASF in 2000. AHP retained ownership of the property, leasing it to BASF until the company moved out in 2002.
Real estate development company Rouse Corp. purchased the property for $35 million in 2004 from AHP. General Growth Properties (GGP) inherited the property later that year when it acquired Rouse.
Faced with financial problems following the recession, General Growth attempted sell the property in 2009, but with no success. At one point, GGP had been in negotiations with Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom’s to anchor a proposed mall for the site, but both of those chains subsequently opted for locations at Quakerbridge Mall as part of that center’s 600,000-square-foot expansion.
In 2010 the property became an asset of the Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC), which had also been part of GGC’s acquisition of Rouse in 2004. HHC was spun off as an independent company by General Growth as part of its reorganization from bankruptcy, which it declared in 2009.
HHC is the developer and manager of both residential and commercial properties. The company’s eight commercial properties, which are primarily retail, include South Street Seaport in Manhattan; various properties in Columbia Town Center in Columbia, Maryland; Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Virginia; Riverwalk Marketplace in New Orleans; Rio West Mall in Gallup, New Mexico; Cottonwood Square in Holladay, Utah; Park West in Peoria, Arizona; and Ward Centers in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The company’s residential portfolio includes four communities with more than 14,000 acres of land remaining to be sold. The properties include Summerlin in Las Vegas; Bridgeland and The Woodlands in Houston; and Columbia, Fairwood, and Emerson in Maryland.
HHC lists the Cyanamid property on its website (www.howardhughes.com) under “strategic developments,” which it defines as ranging “from highly desirable air rights and surface parking lots to aging properties ideal for redevelopment.” According to HHC, there are about 450 developable acres on the property.